In Memoriam of J. Geils

Earlier this week, blues and jazz guitarist J. Geils, who led what Rolling Stone called “the world’s greatest party band,” passed away at age 71.

Like most other people, the first time I heard about The J. Geils Band was in the early 80s when Centerfold was playing on the radio. The song and the album on which it appeared, Freeze-Frame, took the band to its commercial peak. Ironically, as is all too common in rock & roll, long sought and finally achieved success led to the band’s demise only a few years thereafter.

John Warren “J.” Geils Jr. was born in New York on Feb 20, 1946. As a child, he listened to Count Basie, Duke EllingtonBenny Goodman and other artists in the record collection of his father, who was a big jazz fan. During his high school years, he took up the trumpet and learned how to play Miles Davis tunes. But after Geils had heard Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and other blues legends on the radio, he put the trumpet aside and switched to blues guitar.

In 1965, while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, Geils got together with bassist Danny Klein and blues harpist Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz to form Snoopy and the Sopwith Camels, an acoustic blues trio. In 1968, the band changed its style to electric blues, added singer Peter Wolf and drummer Stephen Bladd, and became The J. Geils Blues Band. Later that year, keyboarder Seth Justman completed the lineup. Prior to the release of its eponymous 1970 debut album, the band dropped “Blues” from its name.

J Geils Band Live Full House

While The J. Geils Band may be best known to most people for Love Stinks, Centerfold and Freeze-Frame, they were at their very best during their earlier years, particularly as a live band. In addition to 11 studio albums, 30 singles and various compilations, the band recorded three live albums between 1970 and its breakup in 1985. In particular Live Full House from 1972 is truly electrifying. I had a chance to see the band live myself in New Jersey in 2013, when they were an opening act – I believe for Bon Jovi. They played a great set, though Geils was not part of the lineup.

Justman and Wolf wrote most of band’s original material. Geils only has writing credits on their debut album, for which he wrote the instrumental Ice Breaker and co-wrote Hard Drivin’ Man together with Wolf, which I think is the best original tune of the album.

Apart from their own music, the band recorded fantastic covers of songs from other artists, especially on their early albums.  First I Look at the Purse (Robert Roberts, Smokey Robinson) and Homework (Otis Rush, Al Perkins, Dave Clark) from their first album, and So Sharp (Arlester Christian) and Looking For a Love (J.W. Alexander, Zelda Samules) from the second studio album The Morning After are great examples in this context.

J Geils and Peter Wolf

After the band split up in 1985, Geils got into car racing and restoring old sports cars. In 1992, he returned to music, producing an album for Klein and forming a band with Salwitz called Bluestime for Magic Dick. They released two albums: Bluestime (1994) and Little Car Blues (1996). Another project included New Guitar Summit, a blues trio with Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin, which released two records in 2004. In 2005, Geils also put out a solo jazz album, Jay Geils Plays Jazz.

The J. Geils Band did occasional reunions after their breakup. Then things started to go downhill. In 2009, Geils obtained a trademark for The J. Geils Band name, of which he informed his band mates in 2011, his lawyer told Billboard. In August 2012, Geils sued his former band mates after they had announced a tour without him. As reported by Rolling Stone, he claimed Wolf, Salwitz, Klein and Justman “planned and conspired” to exclude him from the tour while unlawfully using the group’s trademarked name.

On April 12, Geils was found dead by police officers at his home in Groton, Mass. He appeared to have died of natural causes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Geils and his former band mates reconciled.

Here’s a clip of a live performance of First I Look At the Purse.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, YouTube

 

What I’ve Been Listening to: Flamin’ Groovies/Supersnazz

After seeing an intriguing review of one of their albums, I started listening to the Flamin’ Groovies and immediately liked what I heard.

I literally heard about the Flamin’ Groovies for the first time two days ago, when I saw a review of their third album Teenage Head on the excellent hotfox63 music blog. The next thing I learned was Mick Jagger reportedly noted similarities between that album and Sticky Fingers, adding the Flamin’ Groovies had done a better job in revisiting the theme of classic blues and rock & roll than The Rolling Stones on their widely acclaimed 1971 studio release. That got my full attention!

After listening to Teenage Head, an amazing album that sounds very “Stones-esque,” I decided to go back to the band’s beginning: Supersnazz, their first studio album released in Sep 1969. Just like Teenage Head, the record is full of raw energy and has a good dose of Stones-like sound.

Right from the get-go, the Flamin’ Groovies leave no doubt they mean business, kicking things off with a fast blues rocker, Love Have Mercy. This is followed by a fantastic cover version of the Bobby Troup classic The Girl Can’t Help It, which was first performed by Little Richard in 1956. Other standouts among the upbeat tunes on the album are The First One’s Free, Bam Balam and the final song on the original release: Around the Corner, where the band throws in vocal harmonies that are a bit reminiscent of The Beach Boys.

Flamin Groovies_Supersnazz 3

The album’s mid-tempo songs also include gems, such as Laurie Did It and A Part From That, which sound less like blues rock and more like British Invasion pop. It’s a style the band would largely embrace on their albums beginning from the mid 70s – a trajectory that started when co-founder Roy Loney left in 1971 and was replaced by singer and guitarist Chris Wilson. While in the process the Flamin’s Groovies lost some of its originality, as a huge fan of the British Invasion, I don’t consider their transformation as a turn-off!

For a debut album it’s impressive that of the 12 songs on the original edition only four were cover versions. Speaking of covers and coming back to Teenage Head, the CD edition of that album features seven bonus tracks, most of which are remakes. Superb versions of Shakin’ All Over (Johnny Kidd & the Pirates), That’ll Be the Day (Buddy Holly), Louie Louie (The Kingsmen) and Carol (Chuck Berry) prove the high caliber of The Girl Can’t Help It from Supersnazz was not a one-off.

Here’s a clip of Love Have Mercy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Journey’s Trip Leads to Rock & Hall of Fame

Journey, one of my favorite rock bands, joins a long list of music artists to receive one of music’s biggest honors.

Friday night (April 7) was the moment Neal Schon thought would never come. Journey was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And what initially had looked like against all odds, Steve Perry joined his former band mates on stage to accept the honor, marking his first appearance with Journey in 26 years. Though some rumors persisted until the last minute, he did not perform.

While Journey had become eligible for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame more than 15 years ago, they were only nominated last year and made it in right away. That’s unlike many other inductees, who had been eligible for even longer periods and/or been nominated multiple times prior to their induction.

Sadly, the induction ceremonies are notorious for drama surrounding former and present members of bands. More recent examples include Chicago and Peter Cetera, and Deep Purple and Ritchie Blackmore. Journey was no exception, though in their case, the outcome was mostly a happy end!

A certain degree of creative tension in a band can help their music evolve, so it’s not an inherently bad dynamic. But unfortunately, all too often such differences turn personal and bring out big egos. Ironically, for many bands this seems to happen after they become successful. When more is at stake, all the brotherhood and time and effort to get to that stage seem to be forgotten!

Steve Perry clearly was bitter when Journey continued to travel without him in 1998. Following the band’s recording of their 1996 reunion album Trial by Fire, Perry suffered a hip injury in Hawaii. He was told it required hip replacement surgery. This put the band’s planned tour in support of the album on hold. After Perry had refused to undergo the procedure for 17 months, Schon and keyboarder Jonathan Cain lost their cool. They told him to either get under the knife so Journey could resume touring upon his recovery, or they would look for a new singer. Perhaps not surprisingly, Perry was taken aback by this ultimatum and decided to leave the band.

Steve Augeri & Journey 2

Journey went on to hire Steve Augeri as their new lead singer and also replaced Steve Smith on drums with Deen Castronovo, who Schon and Cain had known from their common time with Bad English. I saw that lineup of Journey in the late 90s and was really impressed. I had doubts it was possible to replace Perry, who in his prime time had a voice like no other rock singer. But Augeri sounded surprisingly similar to Perry, and he also did an incredible job hitting and holding these impossibly high notes. From my distant vantage point, he even looked a bit like Perry – frankly, it was almost a bit creepy!

Unfortunately, belting out Journey songs and hitting these crazy high notes night after night took a toll on Augeri’s voice. First challenges started to emerge in 2003, and in 2006, he was dropped from the band. The officially stated explanation was a “chronic throat infection.” For some time, Jeff Scott Soto from Swedish hard rock band Talisman filled in on lead vocals. Finally, in the summer of 2007, Cain and Schon found Arnel Pineda on the Internet. The Filipino singer had been a big Journey fan and performed some of their songs with his cover band The Zoo, which were posted on YouTube – what an incredible story!

I also saw the current Journey lineup with Pineda last April in a superb double bill with the classic Santana band – one of only a handful of gigs the two bands did together. The show predated my blog, so I never got to write a review. In a nutshell, it was absolutely amazing seeing guitar legend Carlos Santana reunite with Schon, Gregg Rollie and other members of the classic Santana band, and playing iconic tunes from their first three albums, as well as their then-new release, Santana IV. Journey’s set was also fantastic, and Pineda did an amazing job on lead vocals.

Arnel Pineda Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Back to the induction ceremony. Journey played three of their best known songs, all from the Perry era, their most commercially successful period: Lights (Infinity, 1978), Don’t Stop Believin’ (Escape, 1981) and Separate Ways (Frontiers, 1983). After reports had emerged that Perry would be there, naturally, fans didn’t stop believin’ he’d also perform. In a couple of interviews leading up to the big night, Schon seemed to be very open about the idea; recognizing Perry’s vocal abilities have changed, he also offered to lower the key of one of their songs.

Steve Perry Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 2

While it’s sad Perry ended up not performing, especially for Journey fans, I think he deserves a lot of credit for joining his former band mates on stage and giving a very gracious speech. I thought one the high points was when he called out Pineda: “I must give a complete shout out to someone who sings his heart out every night, and it’s Arnel Pineda…To Arnel, I love you.” While Perry certainly couldn’t blame Pineda for his painful departure from Journal, putting aside all his past bitterness and showing up for the fans really was a class act!

Following are excerpts from the remarks from some of the other Journey inductees, as reported by Rolling Stone:

Neal Schon Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Schon: “Steve Perry [Applause] If it wasn’t for him, there would be no Journey. [Former Journey manager] Herbie Herbert, thank you from the bottom of my heart, for finding me after Gregg was picking me up in high school when I was 15. Soon after that, I was in the Santana group.”

Gregg Rolie Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rolie: “This is my second trip here. And what a trip this has been. First Santana, Journey, Ringo Starr [since 2012, Rolie has been a member of Ringo’s All-Star Band] and back here with Journey…And Neal Schon…saving me from the restaurant business. Don’t ever do it. Just start Journey.”

Steve Smith Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Steve Smith: “I’ve started out in 1963 at nine years old as a jazz drummer…it wasn’t until 1969 that I discovered rock & roll…As disc jockey Alan Freed, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee once said, “Rock & Roll is really swing with a modern aim. It began in the levies and in the plantations, and featured blues and rhythm.” He said this in the 1950s.”

In addition to Perry, Schon, Rollie and Smith, Journey inductees included current keyboarder and bassist Cain and Ross Valory, respectively, as well as Aynsley Dunbar. Dunbar was the drummer on Journey’s first four albums Journey (1975); Look Into the Future (1976); Next (1977); and breakthrough Infinity, the only overlap with Perry. Since Pineda only joined Journey in 2007 and as such was not eligible yet, he wasn’t inducted.

Here’s a clip of Journey’s performance of Don’t Stop Believin’ during the induction. It doesn’t do great justice to the band’s sound and Pineda’s outstanding voice the way I remember it from last year, but it’s the best footage I could find.

Excerpts from the induction will be shown on HBO on April 29 at 8:00 PM ET/PT. It should be awesome!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

 

 

Deep Purple Still in Rock

With their latest studio album Deep Purple proves they still mean business.

It ain’t Machine Head, but let’s be reasonable here: Comparing Deep Purple’s just released 20th studio album inFinite to what may well be the greatest classic hard rock albums of all time is also a bit unfair.

The fact that at this stage in their long career Deep Purple invested the substantial amount of effort to record new music is laudable in and of itself. Based on posts I’ve seen on the band’s Facebook page, it sounds like inFinite took quite some time to make. Because of the extraordinary commitment it takes to record a new album, other music artists who also became big during Deep Purple’s most successful period essentially no longer bother – so kudos to Deep Purple!

In the era of music streaming and digital downloads, the band is unlikely to make much money from the album’s sales. Sure, you could say it should primarily be about the music and giving something new to their loyal fans. Plus, they’ll be embarking on an extended world tour in May and no doubt will earn cash. And, yes, with reported album sales of more than $100 million, it’s safe to assume these guys don’t exactly live in poverty. Still, wouldn’t you want to get rewarded for work you put so much time and effort into?

Deep Purple inFinite 2

As I started listening to inFinite, my first thought was the music still has one the key ingredients I’ve always loved about Deep Purple: Giving equal roles to distorted guitar licks and the seductive sound of a Hammond organ – almost nothing else gives me more goose bumps in music than a growling Hammond!

There is also a refreshing amount of energy in many of the tunes. Let’s not forget most of the band is in their late 60s and early 70s, except for guitarist Steve Morse who at age 62 is almost a bit of a baby – okay, let me rephrase, a teenager! In one of the clips on their Facebook page, singer Ian Gillan said, “I used to be an angry young man, and now I’m fucking furious again!” Yep, I’d say this definitely comes through in some of the songs.

The album kicks off vigorously with Time for Bedlam, after a spoken intro that lasts about 30 seconds. It’s a great example of what I said above – giving equal weight to electric guitars and a roaring Hammond can make for a terrific combination. While there is probably nobody like Jon Lord, I have to say keyboarder Don Airy really shines in the song’s instrumental part and also does a great job on the album’s other tunes.

Hip Boots, the album’s second song, also reminds me a bit of the Mark II era. The band’s classic line-up from late 1969 – 1973 recorded the two albums I still think are their best: Deep Purple in Rock and Machine Head.

Deep Purple Mark II

Other songs on inFinite I’d like to call out as nicely rocking along include One Night in Vegas and On Top of the World. And there is the cover of Roadhouse Blues, The Doors’ classic from 1970. While I find Ian Gillan’s singing a bit subdued here, he does a cool job on the blues harp. Saving this cover are Don Airy’s cool honky tonk piano and the driving groove provided by drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover – proving once more you can’t have a great band without a great drummer and a great bassist!

Like its predecessor Now What?!inFinite was recorded in Nashville and produced by Bob Ezrin. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Ezrin has worked with an impressive array of other music artists over a 40-year-plus career, including Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel, to name some. Something else I find cool is the album’s cover art. It combines a cursive style p and d to form the infinity symbol, making it appear it all was created by an icebreaker – pretty neat!

There is speculation inFinite may be Deep Purple’s final studio album. That’s perhaps not surprising, given the band named its upcoming word tour The Long Goodbye Tour. After all, the physical demands of the rock & roll business and touring in particular become tougher with age. And in June 2016, Paice suffered a so-called mini-stroke. But as this review rightly points out, inFinite and The Long Goodbye Tour seem to be contradictory names. Plus, a few years ago, the Scorpions were also talking retirement – just saying…

Here’s a clip of Time For Bedlam.

Sources: Wikipedia, Deep Purple Facebook page, TeamRock.com, YouTube

 

 

 

A New Breed of Classic Rock Festivals?

Desert Trip and now The Classic look like the start of a new trend in the concert business: The mega rock festival targeting an older fan base with money to spend.

Last year’s Desert Trip was a dream come true for every classic rock fan, who had the time and money to get to Southern California’s Coachella Valley. I recall reading accounts on Facebook from people who were there and absolutely blown away – if time and money wouldn’t have been an issue, I would have been there as well, no question! With ticket sales totaling $160 million, the festival was also quite lucrative. So it’s perhaps not surprising that it was not the last of its kind.

Over two weekends in October 2016, which amounted to six days altogether, Desert Trip had a spectacular line-up: The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters and The Who. And so will The Classic West in Los Angeles and The Classic East in New York City. Each of the two-day weekend concerts this July will feature Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Journey and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Music festivals in and of itself obviously have been around for a long time. What seems to be different about this new breed of rock spectacle is that it exclusively features big-name music artists who have come of age. Many of them no longer record new music, or if they do, release new material at a much slower pace. Recently, I saw Stevie Nicks quoted in what I believe was a Rolling Stone story, who said the reward from recording a new album in this day and age is simply no longer worth the effort to spend endless hours in the studio. It’s a pretty sad statement, but there is evidence to back it up.

Last July, Billboard reported U.S. album sales during the first half of 2016 were the worst since 1991, falling by more than 13% year-over-year. Over the same period, music streaming was up close to 60%. But that’s not much of consolation for most artists who hardly make any money from streaming. By comparison, concerts are much more lucrative, especially when you appeal to an older audience that generally has more money to spend than young people. Classic rock is one of the music genres that is popular among more mature audiences.

In a New York Times story about the upcoming The Classic music events, Irving Azoff, who represents all of the six performing acts in full or in part, put it as follows: “Classic-rock radio listeners have been underserved by current festival lineups.” The big event that comes to my mind in this context is the iHeart Radio Festival, for which Azoff’s observation is certainly true.

Tickets for The Classic are only available for both days, with regular admissions ranging between $150 and $950 plus fees. According to the Los Angeles Times, there are also various VIP packages, with the most expensive one topping out at a whopping $2,750. Live Nation, the promoter for The Classic, clearly must be convinced that the feeling of having been underserved will open some wallets big time!

I have mixed feelings about the commercial aspects of the shows. Every artist deserves to earn a reasonable living, and it’s certainly true that with all the changes in the music business that has become a lot harder. On the other hand, I have to believe the artists performing at Desert Trip and The Classic already made their money when records were still selling well and are not exactly living in poverty.

Another way to look at this new breed of rock festival is to consider how much it would cost to see the artists in separate shows. Through that lens, a ticket price of $150, $300 and even $600 doesn’t look that outrageous. It translates to $25, $50 and $100 per act based on six artists. Most people would consider a price of $50 to see the Eagles as a bargain. In fact, when I saw them in Atlantic City in 2015, I had to dole out a lot more cash – though I have to add it was one of the most amazing shows I have seen and as such worth every cent! And that sentiment brings me to the next point.

A big part of going to see your rock & roll heroes in concert is emotional. From a strictly rational perspective it’s hard to justify spending hundreds of dollars. But there is just nothing like being in a stadium seeing Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen, and screaming from the top of your lungs together with thousands of other fans. It’s rock & roll!

And as long as great rock music exists, people will keep spending a lot of money on concerts. I also have no doubt that the new breed of rock festival will continue. In fact, I just saw this story about Desert Trip 2017. The second installment will be bigger than its debut and feature 21 artists. The headliners are REO Speedwagon, .38 Special, Kansas, Blue Öyster Cult, Styx and Supertramp. Some of the other artists include James Taylor, Foreigner and Chicago.

Here is the official video teaser for The Classic. I’m very tempted. I’ve been to great shows with all performers, except for Steely Dan, which I would love to see.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Billboard, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Joe Jackson/I’m the Man

After recently rediscovering this 1979 gem from Joe Jackson, I decided “I’m the Man” is definitely worth a post.

The first time I listened to I’m the Man was when I got it as a surprise present for my 14th birthday many moons ago. While I liked the music, I didn’t appreciate how brilliant this record is. At the time, I was primarily into mainstream pop and oldies. Today, I consider Joe Jackson’s second studio album to be one of the jewels in my vinyl collection.

When I listened to the album again recently, I was asking myself which genre best describes Jackson’s music. Undoubtedly, there are traces of punk throughout I’m the Man, though the catchy melodies are not what you typically associate with punk. And if you look at Jackson’s later releases, his music is all over the place, including new wave, jazz and R&B – he has even composed some classical music. This guy is one of the most versatile contemporary music artists!

Reportedly, after the release of his debut album Look Sharp!, Jackson told Rolling Stone, “I think people always want to put a label on what you do, so I thought I’d be one step ahead and invent one myself – spiv rock.” I think he was spot on. It really doesn’t matter whether music fits any genre. The only thing that matters is whether it’s great music, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to I’m the Man and pretty much all of Jackson’s other work I’m aware of.

When it comes to I’m the Man, the thing that stands out to me is how tight the band sounds. The first musician I have to mention here is bassist Graham Maby. Combining an edgy punk-like sound with great melodic runs, he is driving much of the music’s groove. As a former bassist, I think I fully appreciate Maby’s brilliant playing – and, yes, I’m probably also a bit biased! David Haughton (drums) and Gary Sanford (guitar) round out the band’s sound, together with Jackson’s piano, harmonica and melodica.

The album is full of energy, with the majority of songs being mid and uptempo tunes. Things kick off furiously with On Your Radio, both in terms of its fast and pumping beat, and Jackson’s lyrics telling ex-friends, ex-lovers and enemies that unlike him who’s on the radio they’re nowhere – no wonder some people called him “an angry young man!” The second song, Geraldine and John, is one of two slower numbers. It’s also one of the best examples on the album of Maby’s great melodic bass lines. The second slow tune is Amateur Hour, which also has a great bass track. Okay, I guess it’s abundantly clear I’m a big fan of Maby’s bass playing!

From a lyrics perspective, It’s Different for Girls is the album’s most outstanding song. In a twist, Jackson reverses the cliche that all men want is sex, while women are longing for love. In this case, it’s the woman who tells the man, “who said anything about love…don’t you know that it’s different for girls.” In an interview with Songfacts in 2012, Jackson explained, “It was something that I had heard somewhere that stuck me as a cliche…And maybe the idea was to turn it on its head and have a conversation between a man and a woman and what you’d expect to be the typical roles are reversed.”

It’s Different for Girls was the second single from the album. It became Jackson’s highest charting single in the U.K. where it climbed to no. 5 on the singles chart. U.S. audiences apparently were less receptive. The song just missed cracking the top 100 on the Billboard charts, peaking at no. 101. The album’s other single was the title track, I’m the Man. It’s similar in musical style and “angry young man” lyrics to On Your Radio. Unlike It’s Different for Girls, it did not chart in the U.K. and the U.S.

Released in October 1979, I’m the Man peaked at no. 12 on the U.K. Albums Chart and no. 22 on the U.S. Billboard 200 – a remarkable success for a sophomore album. It was produced by David Kershenbaum, who has also worked with many other well known music artists, such as Duran Duran, Tracy Chapman, Bryan Adams, Supertramp and Cat Stevens. Kershenbaum had signed Jackson to A&M Records in 1978 and also produced three of his other albums: Look Sharp! (1979), Body and Soul (1984) and Night and Day (1982), Jackson’s most successful album.

Here’s a great clip of a stripped down version of It’s Different for Girls, featuring Jackson on piano only. Apparently, it was recorded during his 2016 Fast Forward Tour.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Songfacts, YouTube